With December, the sounds of squeaking sneakers and forechecking into the boards have returned to yeshiva gyms and rinks, as inter-school basketball and floor hockey return as surely as the chill. Informally known as the “yeshiva league,” there were once so few teams that the schools resembled the old “Original Six” of the National Hockey League — everyone knew everyone’s coaches, stars, even cheerleaders (cheerleading, however, is now extinct; those short pleated skirts and saddle shoes can only be found in a grandmother’s closet or memory).
Expansion has come to the yeshiva league, as to all others. This winter 32 high schools (boys, girls and co-ed, most schools are Orthodox but not all) are fielding basketball teams, and 17 hockey teams. Nevertheless, games involving Ramaz, Flatbush or MTA (Yeshiva University High School for Boys) still have that pre-expansion “Original Six” feel.
In the spirit of Thomas Wolfe’s “only the dead know Brooklyn,” old timers joke that the ghosts of BTA (Yeshiva University’s defunct Brooklyn high school and an Original Sixer), will be playing this season in the Barclay’s Center, or should be — in their dreams.
It’s been well established, in the post-mortems of the recent presidential election, that Israel was not much of a “wedge issue” for American Jews. But aside from us, what is the sense of the American people regarding Israel? Two weeks ago (Nov. 16-18), CNN and ORC International polled Americans, asking (aside from the recent Gaza war), “Are your sympathies more with the Israelis or with the Palestinians?”
The response: 59 percent of Americans sympathized with Israel; 13 percent with the Palestinians; with the rest supporting neither, both or having no opinion.
Despite the sense from Israel’s critics that the state’s policies are eroding support among Americans, the opposite is true: Israel is riding a surge of American “sympathy” such as the Jewish state has never known since 1967, when Gallup began regular polling on that question.
According to combined CNN/USA Today/Gallup trends, the polls do not show any correlation between Israel’s involvement in the peace process and American sympathy. On the contrary, in September 1993, under Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and immediately after the Oslo accords, pro-Israel “sympathy” stood at 42 percent — a huge 22 percent plummet from the 64 percent Israel enjoyed before Oslo under hardliner Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir in early 1991.
In 1996 and 1997, the pro-Israel numbers dropped to 38 percent. In July 2000, at the time of the Camp David summit when Israel offered 98 percent of the West Bank to Yasir Arafat, sympathy for Israel was only at 41 percent.
By contrast, in the current decade, with the peace process in mothballs, sympathy for Israel has soared to 60 percent under Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (in a poll taken after the 2009 Gaza war), and to 67 percent in 2011 under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Now, Netanyahu’s Israel is riding high at 59 percent, numbers higher than ever known under the peace-seeking prime ministers Rabin, Shimon Peres or Ehud Barak.
Is Israel wary of dealing with the Palestinians? That’s OK, the American public seems to be saying. The American people are sympathetic, even if most others in the world — even other Jews are not.
There’s a lively conversation within the Jewish left, and percolating outward, regarding Jewish organizations serving non-kosher meals at events.
One recent confrontation occurred in November when Jonathan Wolf, who recently chaired Orthodox Jews for Obama, and is a decades-long veteran of American Jewish peace groups, inquired about the food when he was registering for an Americans for Peace Now (APN) dinner. He was told in an e-mail from David Pine, West Coast director of APN, that the food would be “fish and kosher style, but not strictly kosher unless you need that.”
Wolf replied, “Please do not reserve a spot for me. Any Jewish organization [that] does not make sure that the food it serves to all participants is minimally kosher does not deserve my, or any conscientious Jew’s support. [Rabbi] Yitz Greenberg taught that to the UJA-Federation [of New York] people way back in the 1970s. The GA [General Assembly] is strictly kosher, beginning to end. So are all the pluralist Jewish conferences,” and he named AIPAC, CAJE, Limmud and the National Jewish Democratic Council, among others.
Wolf noted that “several of us complained strongly at the J Street national conference last March” that kosher meals were not on the menu. “It is long past time for the liberals and peaceniks in the Jewish world to adhere to basic standards of Jewish respect and observance. ‘Kosher style’ is a bitter oxymoron that organized American Jewry grew beyond (or should have) a long time ago.”
Ori Nir, a spokesman for Americans for Peace Now, responded on Pine’s behalf: “If we serve meat at our functions, we make sure it is kosher. At the [event in question] meat was not served. We served salmon, and offered a vegetarian option.”
Wolf told The Jewish Week that the original claim of kosher style remains unanswered and pivotal, not the least because APN is “the most valuable Zionist organization in America.” He said too many groups believe that they can serve non-meat meals “that are essentially kosher enough” for some, but not kosher enough for those whose kashrut extends to all foods and practices, even beyond meat.
Two rabbis, Asher Lopatin, incoming president of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, and Rabbi Michael Balinsky, executive vice president of the Chicago Board of Rabbis, were among those backing Wolf.
Rabbi Lopatin, in a phone interview, said, “It’s a vicious cycle,” organizations don’t offer kosher food, and then explain that they don’t because they have so few kosher Jews to accommodate.
“We have to break that cycle,” he said. “At a non-Jewish event I am very appreciative when they accommodate me with a pre-wrapped kosher meal, and I’m proud to unwrap it, but at a Jewish event I feel the opposite, like a second-class citizen. Kashrut represents the unity of the Jewish people. I appreciate the commitment that it takes, a commitment to welcoming all Jews. The symbolism is important.”
Rabbi Balinsky, speaking by phone from Chicago, said he’s not actively involved with peace groups, “but I’ve attended their events and we’ve certainly engaged in these conversations. It’s a matter of being welcome, a matter of hospitality.” When he’s served a pre-packaged kosher meal, said Rabbi Balinsky, “you have to unwrap, and unwrap, and you end up with silver foil and plastic all over the table in front of you. There’s something about it that detracts from being with other people at the table.
“Organizations on the left that have a problem with kashrut,” said Rabbi Balinsky, “are putting out the message that they assume that no one who is serious about kashrut will be involved with their organization. I don’t think that’s a smart assumption on their part.”
Yeshiva League Standings So Far
BOYS VARSITY: (East) Rambam 3-1; Hebrew Academy Five Towns Rockaway (HAFTR) 2-2; (Central) MTA 5-0; Magen David 2-0; (West) The Frisch School 6-0; Ramaz 3-1.
BOYS JUNIOR VARSITY: (East) North Shore Hebrew Academy 3-0; DRS-HALB Yeshiva High School for Boys 1-0; (Central) MTA 3-1; Yeshivah of Flatbush 2-1; (West) Frisch 3-0; Torah Academy Bergen County (TABC) 3-0.
GIRLS VARSITY: (Group A): (East) Central (Y.U. High School for Girls), Central 3-0; HAFTR 3-0; (West) Bruriah 4-0; Frisch 3-0; (Group B) Bruriah 2-0; Ilan High School 2-0.
GIRLS JUNIOR VARSITY: (East) HAFTR 3-0; Ramaz 2-1; (West) Hillel Yeshiva 2-0; SAR H.S. 2-1.
BOYS HOCKEY VARSITY: MTA 6-0-0; Rambam 3-0-0; TABC 4-1-0; Flatbush 4-2-0.
BOYS HOCKEY JV: SAR 5-2-0; TABC 4-0-0; Ramaz 3-0-0; North Shore 3-1-0; Flatbush 3-2-0.